River channel dynamics over many decades provide a physical control on the age structure of floodplain vegetation as a river occupies and abandons locations. Floodplain reoccupation by a river, in particular, determines the interval of time during which vegetation can establish and mature. A general framework for analyzing floodplain reoccupation and a time series model are developed and applied to five alluvial rivers in the United States. Channel dynamics in these rivers demonstrate time-scale dependence with short-term oscillation in active channel area in response to floods and subsequent vegetation growth and progressive lateral movement that accounts for much of the cumulative area occupied by the rivers over decades. Rivers preferentially reoccupy locations recently abandoned causing a decreasing probability of reoccupation with time since abandonment. For a typical case, a river is 10 times more likely to reoccupy an area it abandoned in the past decade than it is to reoccupy an area it abandoned 30 yrs ago. The decreasing probability of reoccupation over time is consistent with observations of persistent stands of late seral stage floodplain forest. A power function provides a robust approach for estimating the cumulative area occupied by a river and the age structure of riparian forests resulting from a specific historical sequence of streamflow in comparison to either linear or exponential alternatives.
Additional publication details
Reoccupation of floodplains by rivers and its relation to the age structure of floodplain vegetation